London-based alternative rock band Oli Barton & the Movement are a long-time favorite of mine, and I’ve featured the marvelously talented five-piece several times on this blog since first learning about them four years ago. (You can read some of my reviews by clicking the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) So it goes without saying that it’s always a happy day when they drop new music, and on April 23rd they released a fantastic new single “Martyr“. The song is a bit of stylistic departure from their previous offerings, and I loved it at first listen.
As indicated by their name, the band is headed by hyper-creative and charismatic singer-songwriter Oli Barton, with the Movement consisting of four outstanding musicians – Ryan Wilson on lead guitar, Jamal Lagoon on rhythm guitar, Marco Paone on Bass, and Josh Needham on drums. Their eccentric yet sophisticated style of alternative rock is a colorful mix of post-punk, psychedelia, funk, grunge and pop, and always totally original with a sound like no other band I know of. “Martyr” follows their previous single “Get Out” released last October, which became their most successful single to date.
About the new single, Oli elaborates “This last year has really proved something to us. You have to look beyond the negativity, beyond the politics, beyond the media and you will find that people are ultimately always there for each other. We’ve seen these amazing people laying their lives on the line for others and being completely selfless. Lyrically, I wanted to pay tribute to these unsung heroes because they prove that we are always stronger together. The production on this track too is my favourite yet, utilising multiple synth layers and huge drums to bring that pure 80s vibe.“
Well, I’m a lover of a lot of 80s music, with their big synth sounds and anthemic choruses, so “Martyr” is right up my alley. The lush synths are gorgeous, and when paired with Ryan and Jamal’s stunning layered guitars, Marco’s throbbing bass and Josh’s bold drumbeats, the result is a gloriously cinematic and uplifting soundscape that soars to the heavens. I love Oli’s distinctive, resonant singing voice and rich accent, and he’s never sounded better as he passionately sings of his admiration and devotion for another who’s given him support: “But when I’m alone, more will come to me. And when I’m alone, suffering the c’est la vie. Well I say, I’ll just be a martyr for you, if you would be a martyr for me. And when I’m lying flat on the ground, it’s your face I want to see.”
It’s a brilliant song on every level, and I’m confident it will become their biggest hit yet.
It was a year ago almost to the day when British band Young Decades released their beautiful debut single “Islands”, on April 24, 2020. A few weeks later, I wrote a review of the song, in which I went into some detail about the band’s back story, which you can read about here. Formed during the early onset of the Covid pandemic, like every other artist and band around the globe, they were unable to tour or perform live. The guys decided to make the most of their down time, setting themselves on a frenetic mission to build up a catalog of songs and get them out to the listening public. Following the massive success of “Islands”, they released four more excellent singles, as well as several collections of remixes and alternative versions. On March 5th, they released an EP Let You Down, which featured all five of their singles.
A few months after I wrote my review, the band parted ways with their drummer, and soldiered on as a three-piece. Since they weren’t able to play live, not having a permanent drummer did not prevent them from recording new music. Nevertheless, just this week they’ve recruited a new drummer named Lee Cameron, so they’re back to being a foursome. In addition to Lee, their lineup consists of James Tidd (vocals), Scott Harvey (guitar, keyboards) and Liam Downey (bass). The various band members are scattered about the Midlands and North West England, but meet up for rehearsals and recording in the city of Stoke on Trent.
Today, April 23, they drop their latest single “Sinner“, which I’m pleased to name my New Song of the Week. The track was produced by band songwriter and vocalist James Tidd, with assistance from Human League bassist Ian Burden and long-time friend and engineer Tom Longworth, and mastered by Mike Marsh, who’s also worked with such bands as Phoenix, Chemical Brothers and Empire of the Sun. The song is a gorgeous sweeping anthem, with exuberant swirling synths and layers of roiling and jangly guitars. I love the throbbing bass and strong thumping drumbeats that make up the track’s powerful driving rhythm, and the dramatic piano flourishes add wonderful texture and depth.
The song’s buoyant, uplifting melody contrasts with the rather cynical lyrics. As I previously noted in my review of “Islands”, James has a phenomenal singing voice, and his vocals are beautiful and heartfelt as he plaintively sings of his personal failings, admitting he’s a sinner who doesn’t want to be saved. “A funny thing is this life. You only get what you take. Ever feel you’re surrounded by wolves? Cause I do, I saw them in the news. But I’m not that guy. I’m not that good. I pray you do. I say not what I do. I’m a sinner now. I’m a sinner. And I don’t need saving.”
“Sinner” is a stellar track, and I think it’s Young Decades’ best single yet. So long as they keep making outstanding music like this, their star will surely continue to rise.
One of my favorite female vocalists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog over the past three years. (You can read some of my previous reviews listed under “Related” at the end of this post.) Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is an exceptionally talented, gracious and strikingly beautiful woman, with a dazzling powerhouse voice to match. I honestly believe she could sing just about anything! She’s also a highly accomplished visual artist, and you can check out some of her phenomenal work on her WordPress blog.
With her deep, soulful and smoky vocal style, combined with a masterful ability to cover multiple genres ranging from blues, rock and metal to pop and country with ease, she’s become an international music star, winning numerous awards over the past several years, including the 2018 Josie World Music Artist Award, and 2019 Artist of the Year (multi Genre), both of which were presented to her in Nashville, Tennessee. More recently, she’s been nominated for a Texas Sounds International Country Music Award 2021, and her hard rock song “We Are Lords” has been nominated for a Munich Music Video Award, is a finalist for Best Original Song in the UK International Music Video Awards, and made the first ballot for consideration of a Grammy for Metal Performance by The Recording Academy. And on April 18th, Lyia participated in the Ladies Who Rock For A Cause Virtual Music Festival, whose goal was to raise awareness and funds for ataxia, an incurable and rare neurological disease.
A prolific artist, Lyia released six singles in 2020, and has already dropped two this year, the latest of which is “This One’s For You“. While she often writes her own songs, she also collaborates with other songwriters and musicians from time to time, not only to broaden her own musical horizons, but also to support other songwriters. “This One’s For You” was written by Los Angeles-based songwriter Denise Dimin, and produced by Nashville-based Bob McGilpin, who also played guitar, bass, piano and drums.
The song is sublime, with a retro adult contemporary feel similar to some of the great torch songs of the 50s and early 60s by such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra. Bob McGilpin’s musical arrangement is brilliant, and I love his tinkling piano keys and guitar notes that give the track a cool jazzy vibe. Lyia’s smoky vocals are smooth and lovely, perfectly complementing the track’s mellow arrangement. But they’re emotive and heartfelt too, conveying a sad resignation as she sings the bittersweet lyrics addressed to the woman who’s now with the man she once claimed.
This one's for you
You're the one who has taken my place
You won, guess I should bow out with grace
Be happy with my pride
My hat is off to you
You did what I just never could
Though you know I always thought that I would
God knows I've tried
If you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there's nothing left
I raise my glass to you
You succeeded where I always failed
Guess things are good, but oh what the hell
I guess you're satisfied
Thanks to you, I'm free
I do what I please
Right now, I'm just not sure what that means
Sometimes it hurts so much inside
I didn't think this could happen
It's all a big mistake
You've got him now
You've got his love
And who is to blame
Cause if you think you'll make him happy
Go on, you've got the best
Give him good times
Give him love
And for me, there is nothing left
The official video shows Lyia in her element at a recording session at Big A Productions in Kuala Lumpur.
Paul Renna is a singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Dallas, Texas who’s been writing, recording and performing music, first with bands and later as a solo artist, for more than 25 years. His signature music style draws from folk, Southern rock and Americana, with his songs resting comfortably among all three genres. He released his first solo album Portrait in 2003, then after a quiet period lasting seven years, Paul returned in 2010 with his second album Freedom. In the years since, the prolific artist dropped two more full-length albums and three EPs, and in 2019, he released two singles, “Bound to Love” and “All My Life”, both of which I featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now he returns with his latest single “Fire“, a blues-soaked gem that sees Paul delving deeper into Southern roots rock.
Paul actually wrote “Fire” a number of years ago, and originally featured an acoustic version of the song on his 2013 album Unplugged. For the single release, he teamed up with producer Paul Soroski in the creation of an edgier, more hard-rocking vibe befitting the song’s title. The two Pauls get right down to business, as the song opens strong with jarring guitar chords and wailing organ. Things quickly settle into an almost funky groove, as Paul lays down some bluesy guitars, accompanied by that terrific meandering organ and just the right amount of drums. As the song progresses, he layers more aggressive guitars, giving the song a heavier rock feel.
Paul has a commanding and emotive singing voice, with a slightly raspy quality that works especially well on this song, leaving us little doubt as to his lusty intentions: “I don’t need to be adored, up against the wall, down on the floor. We can set this place on fire.” It’s a wonderful bluesy rocker.
With the lifting of Covid restrictions in Texas, Paul is back performing live at venues throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Check out his Facebook and Twitter pages for dates and locations of upcoming shows.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Fresh New Tracks post, and today I’m featuring three recently-released songs by three totally different acts I’m particularly fond of on a personal level: Chicago alternative electronic rock artist brett.grant.5, indie singer-songwriter Marc Schuster, and Texas hard rock’n’roll band The Metal Byrds.
“Reanimate” by brett.grant.5 featuring Emma Young
brett.grant.5 is the artistic name of Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant, who’s been active in the Chicago music scene for many years, both as a member of several bands and as a solo artist. Drawing from a wide and eclectic range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to electronic and experimental progressive rock, his sound is bold, unorthodox and always fascinating. Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about both his solo music as well as that of his band A Million Rich Daughters. Last June, I reviewed his single “Burning Fire”, a biting song repudiating the religious dogma that keeps people enslaved on so many different levels – mentally, socially, culturally and physically. He recently returned with a new single “Reanimate“, which features guest vocals by singer-songwriter, actor, model and producer Emma Young, who Brett got to know while they were students at Columbia College Chicago. They’d also played together in the band Sleep For Dinner, who released a self-titled EP in 2019.
“Reanimate” is a deliciously dark electronic track with a throbbing, super-gnarly bass groove overlain by an eerie mix of spacey, wobbly, and tortured psychedelic industrial synths, all working together brilliantly to create a dramatic and unsettling soundscape befitting the subject matter, which seems to me to be about how mankind keeps repeating the same destructive behavior over and over again, never learning from past mistakes. Brett has a distinctive singing voice, with the ability to sound vulnerable as well as diabolical, which he does here to great effect as he rails “Pretend you forgive, pretend you forget, pretend that it’s just another thought to repress.” Emma, on the other hand, has a lilting vocal style which provides a nice contrast as she hauntingly chants the chorus “I’m not trying to invalidate. I know they could soon eradicate. I can hear them start to salivate. Breathe in the undead, reanimate.”
The beautiful artwork for the single was created by Brett’s wife Ashlee.
Marc Schuster is a talented and creative renaissance man who I got to know through blogging (he has a WordPress blog called Abominations, which you can check out here). In addition to teaching English at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, Marc has written several books, written scripts for two short films, writes songs and records music as both a solo artist and with music projects Plush Gordon, The Ministry of Plausible Rumours and experimental electronic music project Android Invasion. On April 6th, he released his latest single “Before the Boys“, a song that speaks to, in his own words, “the tyranny of gender identity, wrapped in a bubblegum pop sensibility reminiscent of the Monkees. The song is about a free-spirited eleven-year-old girl who becomes self-conscious when someone pulls her aside and tells her to be more reserved and feminine because ‘boys are watching’. It’s told from the point-of-view of the eight-year-old boy who is crushed when the girl gives up her tomboy ways.”
It’s a sweet song, with a simple but catchy piano-driven melody, punctuated in the choruses with quirky synth sounds that create an endearing vibe. Marc’s low-key vocals are smooth and pleasing as he croons the lyrics from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy now disappointed that the eleven-year-old tomboy he had fun with has changed, and not for the better in his opinion:
Muddy knees and a bloody lip the day she turned self-sabotaging, A well-meaning grandmother pulled her aside and said, “Girl, don’t you know boys are watching?” She was tough and she was cool, And she wasn’t afraid to make noise. Before the makeup, before the hair, Before the laborious ploys. Before, before, before the boys.
“Before the Boys” will be available on all streaming services by the end of the month.
The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band based in Austin, Texas, who play a hard-hitting style of rock infused with healthy doses of rock’n’roll and power pop, along with enough metal in the mix to give their songs a dark, edgy quality. Formed in 2018, the band consists of London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie, as well as guitarist Sly Rye, bassist Kevin Kurts and drummer Alex Romanov. Over the past two years, they’ve released three EPs – The Song Byrd in April 2019, Byrds on a Wyre in June 2020, followed by Life in 20 in October, which I reviewed. On April 4th, they dropped “Spitfire Pete“, the first single from their forthcoming album 4, due for release later this year. The song is dedicated to an autistic boy from Lincolnshire, England named Pete, who’s a big fan of the band and rock’n’roll.
With blazing riffs and driving rhythms that would make AC/DC proud, The Metal Byrds fully engage their sonic weaponry to create a rousing rock song befitting the vintage film footage of British fighter pilots flying their Supermarine Spitfire aircraft during World War II and waging air fights against the Germans at the Battle of Britain. Sly Rye shreds the airwaves with fiery riffs and wailing distortion, while Kevin and Alex keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Suzanne’s powerhouse aggressive vocals rise to the occasion as she fervently wails “All guns blazing, all night long. Pulling the trigger. Pulling the trigger and dropping the bomb. Spitfire Pete, whoa-oh. Never retreat, he’ll make a stand.” It’s a kickass banger!
Regular readers of this blog know I’m a huge fan of the artist Two Feet, the massively-talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who’s currently riding a tsunami of musical creativity and output. Over the past few months, he’s collaborated on several songs with other artists, including electronic producer Gryffin on “I Want Love”, electro-pop band SHAED on “Part Time Psycho”, and electro/goth pop artist Sub Urban on the trippy “PATCHWERK“. Now he’s releasing his most ambitious album yet, Max Maco is Dead Right?, which officially drops April 16th.
For those still living under a rock, Two Feet is the musical alter-ego of New York City-born and now L.A.-based Zachary William “Bill” Dess, who is just about my favorite artist making music today. His incredible guitar work – characterized by intense, bluesy riffs and enhanced with hip-hop and jazz elements and floor-rattling synth bass grooves – combined with his soulful, smoldering vocals, make for music that’s strongly appealing, deeply impactful, and undeniably sexy. I love all his music, and have written about him many times on this blog. He records and performs his music with the assistance of his longtime keyboardist Geoffrey Hufford (aka Huff), and recently teamed up with producers John Feldmann (Blink182, Panic! At The Disco) and Andrew Luce to help with the new album.
Beginning with the release of his breakout single “Go Fuck Yourself” in 2016, Two Feet has been on a creative roll ever since, releasing numerous singles, including his #1 alternative hit “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” in 2018, followed later that year by his extended EP A 20 Something Fuck, and in March 2019 by his debut album Pink (read my review here). In October 2020, he dropped “Think I’m Crazy”, followed in quick succession by three more singles “Time Fades Away”, “Fire” and “Never Enough” – all of which are featured on Max Maco is Dead Right?
For the new album, Two Feet created yet another alter ego character named Max Maco, as a way of wrestling with some of the emotional traumas he’s experienced in the past, as well as the pressures that have come with success and fame. He’s been pretty open and honest with his fans and followers about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety, and after an emotional breakdown in the summer of 2018, he spent time at a few mental hospitals in New York. He told me that he based the character of Max Maco on some of the people he met during his hospital stays.
In a newly published article in American Songwriter, he further explained: “I had met various, very interesting people who you’d never normally have the chance to talk to at some of these mental hospitals. Some of them had some of the most fascinating, beautiful stories about their lives I’ve ever heard. Over the course of years, I tried to formulate how I could basically tell an amalgamation of some of the stories from various people I’ve met at these hospitals.” My guess is that the album title represents his overcoming at least some of his traumas and demons, personified in Max Maco. Hence the cover art showing the character lying on an embalming table, wrapped in a sheet and staring blankly into space.
He introduces us to Max Maco on the opening track “Hi I’m Max Maco“. The song starts off with a strummed guitar as Two Feet breathily croons “Everybody I’m Max Maco, I always have things to say. There are things that I don’t remember. People treat me like I’m famous, and they’re giving me free money.” Then we’re hit with that signature deep bass groove, accompanied by an unsettling and shrill reverb-heavy synth and plucked guitar chord. As the next track “Nightmare” unfolds, I’m blissfully swept away by the sultry, pulsating grooves, dark, swirling synths and gorgeous guitar notes. Two Feet laments of the downside of success in the lyric “Although grass was gold and green, the money controlling me, so I must go.”
“Think I’m Crazy” sees Max Maco describing his feelings of being overwhelmed by hedonistic desires and losing a grip on reality: “I thought that I was calling up my friends now. But Kurt told me that they were in my head, so. / I think I’m crazy, lately. Everything is hazy. Everything and anything I ever want to do. I think I’m crazy lately, feeling like I’m faded everywhere I go.” Musically, the song features a killer thumping bass groove overlain with eerie synths, emphatic percussion and pulsating guitar notes that create a dark vibe that’s both menacing and sexy. I love his vocals, which go from a sultry, earnest croon to a soaring falsetto in the choruses. The lyrics are brought to life in the entertaining and darkly sexy video.
Next up is the smoldering “Fire” (no pun intended), a sultry and cinematic little masterpiece that slowly builds to a scorching crescendo befitting the song’s title. Two Feet sings with a breathy, impassioned falsetto as he croons to a lover of his intense, all-consuming desire: “Darling, You call my name / I like the games you play / Charming, My love for you / Burning, I feel it too.” “Fire” has become one of my favorite of his songs, and just spent a month atop my Weekly Top 30.
One of the notable differences between his previous music and Max Maco is Dead Right? is the inclusion of dance/EDM elements on some of the tracks. The first is the wonderful “Never Enough“, which continues with the theme of succumbing to intoxicating carnal desires first introduced on “Fire”. I love the hypnotic, hip-swaying beat, otherworldly synths and shimmery guitars. The dangerously sexy “Flatline” pays homage to Two Feet’s appreciation for Latin culture with a mesmerizing melody, intense, bluesy guitar notes and vocals so fucking sensuous they raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
The song is instantly one of my favorites on the album, but then I hear “Lies” and I’m blown away. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward tune actually, but I’m a sucker for songs with strong, driving beats, and “Lies” fills the bill quite nicely with its pulse-pounding dance groove and raunchy guitars. And it goes without saying that Two Feet’s sultry vocals are fantastic. Interestingly, those three songs are broken up by the minute-long interlude “Are You Hanging Off The Balcony“, a humorous spoken-word piece in which he tells his engineer Anthony that he loves him, accompanied by acoustic guitar.
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record as I try to come up with descriptors and superlatives for these songs, so bear with me as I continue to profess my unabashed love. “Blame Me” sees Two Feet return to his roots, delivering the intense bluesy riffs we’ve come to love and expect in his songs. On the atmospheric “I Can’t See At All“, his gorgeous guitar work is sublime, accompanied by glittery synths and his echoed breathy vocals singing of his being blinded by his intense desire for another: “Every time I try to run. Thought of you make me numb. / I can’t see at all. Am I here alone? Is it day or night? Got no control.”
On the darkly introspective “Time Fades Away“, Two Feet laments of emotional pain and loss amid the passage of time: “I feel a certain way. Too much to numb the pain. And I just don’t know now, the way the world will change. Oh, time fades away. Pull it back but it’s too late.” The song has a languid, melancholic vibe with a repetitive strummed guitar note serving as the driving force, overlain with delicate atmospheric synths and gentle percussion. The distorted guitar solo toward the end is terrific.
“Lover” is an interesting track, starting off with a gauzy piano riff and Two Feet’s electronically-altered vocals, giving it an otherworldly lo-fi vibe that makes it sound more like a demo. Just past the minute-mark, harsh industrial synths, sharp percussion, booming bass and distorted guitar come crashing into the mix, completely changing the song’s feel as he continues to drone “Lover, where you staying? Feeling, like I’m playing.”
Album closer “And I Fucked Up (Live)” is another change of pace from his usual sound. With his strummed acoustic guitar and vocals the only sounds we hear, the song has more of a folk/singer-songwriter feel, and I like it. The song seems to tie things up for Max Maco, with lyrics speaking of his remorse over losing someone through his misdeeds: “I feel lost and dangerous. Think I’ve gotta change this. Feeling weak in my knees. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I say, I will try a new way. But I’m lying, the world is empty now. And the feeling of having you around, was the one thing that kept my soul on the ground. And I fucked up./ If you wanna come back, got a cardboard make shack at 39th and Broadway. People give me money, oh I’m famous honey. No one gets in my way.” I like how Two Feet kept the little misstep at the beginning, similar to Green Day at the beginning of their song “Good Riddance”.
In that above-referenced American Songwriter article, Two Feet commented on his feeling about Max Maco is Dead Right?: “My other albums, even my first two EPs, are of the moment songs I thought of that I then compiled together. So this one, to me, was really thought out. I tried to make everything congruent. From an artistic standpoint, it’s definitely my favorite album I’ve written so far.” I would have to agree with him, and as much as I love Pink, I love this magnificent album even more. Every track is superb, and a testament to his continued growth as an artist and songwriter. Max Maco is Dead Right? is without question one of the best albums of 2021, if not the best.
As I’ve noted numerous times on this blog, there’s a tremendous amount of music talent in the UK, and one of the more creative and imaginative artists among them all is singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis. The London East Ender boldly experiments with a wide array of genres and influences, ranging from alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk to R&B and EDM, in the creation of his exciting and eclectic style of blues-soaked rock that nicely suits his distinctive raspy vocals. And he isn’t afraid to address the darker side of humanity and the emotional wreckage of failed relationships, love gone bad and our sometimes self-destructive ways, while also offering glimmers of hope and redemption. His unique sound is instantly identifiable, as he sounds like no one else I know of.
He’s released a fair amount of music over the past decade, including his debut EP Karma Comedown in 2016, followed a year later by his brilliant album Grief Harbour, which I reviewed. In the years since, he’s dropped a number of singles, two of which – “Blowtorched Dreams” and “Rock That City” – I also featured on this blog (you can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now Philip returns with another great new single “Come Find Me Back“, along with a terrific video which I’m happy to premier. Released via label Tx2 Records, the single was written, produced, performed and mixed by Philip, and mastered by legendary mastering engineer Pete Maher. The backing vocals were sung by Annick.
“Come Find Me Back” is a heartfelt song that speaks to someone’s fall from grace and the break up of a family. Philip elaborates “The song is about the breaking up of families and single parenting in an era where it’s simply easier to separate than to fight for your love and try to do everything you can to mend relationships. And someone trying to find his grace back in the spiritual sense, in a way to become stronger, accept past errors, and try and reunite and fix things.”
Philip brings his poignant lyrics to life with mournful piano keys, intricate guitar work and gently soaring horns, all working together brilliantly to create a beautiful and haunting soundscape. A close listen reveals how he skillfully layers multiple guitar textures to create both nuance and depth of sound, with subtle bass and percussion nicely transitioning to bolder rhythms in the anthemic choruses. His plaintive, blues-soaked vocals are powerfully emotive, conveying his despair and pleas for forgiveness and acceptance back into the fold with a heart-wrenching rawness.
Love it's just just a couple of lines
To let you know I miss you babe
And it's just just a couple of bars
To let you know I messed things upAll that is left inside of me
Is the thought of our crazy little family
And it feels so warm
But time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my wayHope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
I can't make you feel like I do
Though I wish you could see me now
Now I know that you couldn't love me
Like the man that I used to beAll that is left inside of me
Is the wrong that I did and a mystery
How to learn to forgive myself
What a mess
Time keeps on passing us by
And I wanna hold you both so tight
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
Hope is all I have
Grace come find me back
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way
Hope is all I have
Love don't count me out
Until that one fine day
Until I find my way back to you
The beautiful video, which Philip directed and edited, was filmed in London’s East End, and shows scenes of mostly empty streets, parks and playgrounds, as well him in what appears to be an empty house. All serve to represent his feelings of isolation and loneliness, both at home and within the larger context of a big city that should be teeming with life. The child’s drawing of a family of three, shown blowing around on the sidewalk, is a particularly touching element.
Michigan seems to be a wellspring of great music, and over the past two months I’ve written about several artists from the Great Lake State, including Dawning, Au Gres and Michigander. I’m now pleased to introduce a fourth, the delightfully-named Jack Droppers & the Best Intentions, who just released their heartwarming new single “Welcome to the Party” on April 9th. The song is the fourth single from their forthcoming third studio album Dad Rock, due for release on June 18. As I always do when reviewing an artist or band’s music for the first time, I listened to their back catalog to get a better feel for their sound, and I have to say that I really like every one of their songs, even their live performances, which sound as good as their studio recordings.
Based in Grand Rapids, the six-piece is fronted by singer-songwriter Jack Droppers, with the Best Intentions consisting of Laura Hobson (tambourine, backing vocals), Devin Sullivan (guitar, backing vocals), James Kessel (keyboards, backing vocals), Garrett Stier (bass, backing vocals), and Josh Holicki (drums). Their wonderfully infectious and lively brand of Heartland rock’n’roll has drawn comparisons to such acts as Dawes, Delta Spirit, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and Bruce Springsteen. And it’s that Springsteen comparison, along with the recent birth of Jack’s first child Naomi, that inspired their new album’s cheeky Dad Rock title. The single and album were produced and mixed by Jake Rye and mastered by Mike Cervantes (both of whom also performed similar duties on the records by Dawning, Au Gres and Michigander).
Jack states that “Welcome to the Party” acts as both thesis and conclusion for the album, “as it invites this child into a world that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrible, and often both at the same time. This song is perhaps the most personal song on the record (it’s the only time I’ve ever had to stop recording vocals cause I was crying big old dad tears). It is a song that was written for Naomi before she was born but was also written for you as we eventually step out of this strange season and begin to ask, ‘what does it mean to be alive?’ The song (like the record as a whole) arrives at this question and offers no quick answers but the steady refrain that ‘you are so loved, so you can always sow love‘.”
The song is both inspiring and beautiful, opening with a stirring four-part vocal harmony backing Jack’s lovely, heartfelt vocals that immediately made me think of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Like Flowers, Jack has an emotive vocal style with a strong vulnerability that’s quite endearing. The melody and lush instrumentals are gorgeous too, with jangly guitars accompanied by strings, mellotron, vibraphone and trumpet (which was played by Jared March at a separate studio and later added to the track, with the band never actually meeting him in person). It’s a wonderful song, and I love this band.
The sweet cover photo of Jack holding Naomi was taken by band member James Kessel.
There’s a lot of musical talent out there, and I’m particularly impressed by the sheer number of exceptional musicians and bands that continue to emerge from the UK – something that’s long been apparent to even the casual music observer. One of the standout artists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in the past year is singer-songwriter Liam Sullivan. The Leeds-based musician is a fine songwriter and guitarist, with a vibrant and warm singing voice that’s both comforting and beautiful. His music style can generally be described as alternative rock with folk and singer-songwriter elements that make for an incredibly pleasing listening experience, and I love every one of his songs that I’ve heard.
Liam’s been writing and performing music for well over a decade, both as a member of various bands and, more recently, as a solo artist with a back-up band of musicians he assembled to help bring his poetic lyrics to life. Like a lot of musicians who were prevented from touring or performing to live audiences, he made the best of the Covid lockdown situation to write and record new music. He’s released four singles since last May, the latest of which is “Stadiums and Churches“, which dropped April 9th (which seems to be a big day for the release of new music). I’ve reviewed his previous two singles “When This is Over” and “Be Kind”, which you can read by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post. Those two singles have become his most successful yet, and with plans to release a new song roughly every six weeks for the rest of the year, the hard-working artist’s music career is destined to grow exponentially.
He was inspired to write “Stadiums and Churches” during the first lockdown after watching the British sports documentary series Sunderland ‘Til I Die. An episode addressed how sports stadiums have sat empty during the lockdown, which got Liam to thinking about all the stadiums, theaters and churches, where masses of people normally congregate to celebrate events important to them, that were now just empty and lifeless places.
To drive home his message, he starts with a lovely piano movement that forms the basis of the song’s haunting but beautiful melody, accompanied by his strummed acoustic guitar, subtle bass and gentle percussion. He first laments about all the empty places where we once assembled: “The churches and stadiums are hollow empty places now. Nowhere to gather, nowhere to believe, nowhere to go at all” but then seems to address his own personal feelings of abandonment: “Where did you go, where did you go, why’d you leave me here alone?” His guitars and soothing vocals turn more urgent in the choruses, bolstered by sweeping strings and more dramatic percussion that convey a sense of hopefulness about the future as he sings about returning outside: “Head out the window. Can you feel the daybreak?” I love his vocals throughout the song, as well as his exuberant guitar solo in the bridge and the soaring crescendo at the end. It’s a fantastic song, and I think it’s one of Liam’s best yet.
Hailing from beautiful Vancouver, Canada, the Matlen Starsley Band are a five-member collective of seasoned and accomplished musicians who came together in mid-life to recapture some of the energy and passion that got them into the music business to begin with, and in the process create some great music. Comprised of Dennis Matechuk (lead vocals), Kevin Star (guitar & vocals), Don Lennox (bass & vocals), Jim Wesley (drums) and Darryl Hebert (keyboards, guitar, accordion & vocals), all are either former or current members of the Bryan Adams Band, The Ray Roper Project, Bad Moon Riders, Touchdown, Fandango, and Bad Allen and the Muscle Cats. Collectively, they’ve played thousands of shows in venues ranging from intimate clubs to major festivals in front of 20,000 fans, and bring a wealth of experience to the creation of their engaging style of music drawn from country, blues, roots and Southern rock.
In July 2019, they released their terrific debut album Rollin’ Again, which I later reviewed. Unable to tour or play live during most of 2020, the guys spent time writing and recording songs for their second album, due out later this year. The first single from the new album is “Makin’ Good Time“, which I’ve named my New Song of the Week. The song is a rousing Southern rocker, with feel-good lyrics about going out on the open road, experiencing freedom from responsibilities, and feeling the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair. “Wind on our backs, nothing but blue sky. Ain’t got no destination. No time or place we got to be. Makin’ good time, just gettin’ away.“
Musically, the song features the band’s reliably awesome mix of bluesy and slide guitars and jaunty honky-tonk piano, enhanced by a spirited horn section that really dials up the energy level. Dennis’ warm, earnest vocals are backed by the delightful Chandra Russell, whose soulful croons add some nice texture to the track. I love the many little touches the guys employ in their songs, like Kevin’s slide guitar mimicking a rolling train when Dennis sings the lyric “We’ll go down to the station tonight, we’ll hop on up when that train rolls by.” It’s a fine song that makes for a good time indeed!